Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Five Bad Cartoons with Awesome Locations

You know, I'm going to try something new today.

I found that I'm still kind of behind as far as posts go, so instead of rushing a post out like I was going to do (and considering my next post is about a show that just transcends stupidity, I really want to take my time), I thought I'd fill in the dead space with something different. Instead of talking about a show in length and pointing out as many logical fallacies as possible, I'm going to take a page from the Cracked.com/Nostalgic Critic/<insert some other site famous for funny lists> diary and do a list.

If it works, I can crank one of these out whenever I notice that I'm behind schedule. If it doesn't work, I can just throw up my hands, say "Oh well", and I continue living life.

It probably helps that the subject I'm choosing is not something everyone's seen like "Worst Cartoons of the 1990's" or "Scariest Scenes in a Disney Film". Instead, like most of my blog where I spend huge chunks of my time trying to polish a turd like Street Sharks or Captain Planet and saying that one part is legitimately funny or good, I'm going to try to, at least in my lists, point to things that a lot of people hate and say that there is something worth redeeming.

And this time around, I want to point out locations. Locales are where the cartoons, of course, take place (unless you want your characters to be floating in a blank white void), but they always seem to be relegated to the background. A cool location can enhance a picture, and a terrible, badly-written area can drag something down, but they very, very rarely make or break a production. No one leaves a movie going "Yeah, the story and the animation was crap, but those backgrounds were cool!" when it comes to animated films.

Which is why I'm writing this. Because, even though I'm not saying any of these movies are any good, I do want to point out that there's at least some talent to be had in the production. Even if it involves a portion of the film that doesn't really count in the long run.

That being said, let's dive into...

Five Bad Cartoons with Awesome Locations

1. Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue

Well, I'm off to a good start. This movie better let you know that I'm being serious when I mean "bad cartoons".

Gotta love the troll face on the main lead.
A movie that seems only to exist to be one of the biggest punchlines for how terrible direct-to-video sequels are, Secret of Nimh 2: Timmy to the Rescue is a story of how a character that only got one line in the previous film suddenly has a prophecy tied to his life that somehow involves talking catapillars, strangely buff cats with odd haircuts, and a mad scientist mouse with the voice of Eric Idle.

Why this is considered a bad cartoon
Even if you don't already hate it, a quick google search of "Secret of NIMH 2" will quickly inform you of the massive hatebase this movie has. There's also a Nostalgic Critic review (because if I'm going to talk about bad films, he's going to have to come up sooner or later) and, before it was made, the most was the most requested film in his roster. Think about what that means. One of the most famous video-bloggers on the web, and his massive fandom was baying for him to tear this movie a new asshole. 

Hell, I couldn't really find the art for the box without wading through a lot of anti-Secret of NIMH 2 pictures.

Plus, you know, it's a cash-in sequel to one of the most visually stunning animated films of all time. It's almost as bad as if Disney made a sequel to Hunchback of Notre Dame with some sort of boring love interest and a lame villain and that totally happened didn't it.

The Awesome Location

I like how the scientists couldn't decide which castle design to use on their laboratory so they just used them all.
What many people don't like to come to grips about when they talk about this film in particular is the fact that, when you get right down to it, it did have actual talent put into it. While the animation is horrible compared to the Don Bluth masterpiece, it's actually a lot better than a lot of the Disney direct-to-video sequels. And that's especially at play when they head into the evil science facility that was hyped to hell in both films, NIMH.

When watching this film, I always got the feeling that if they divorced this film from the Secret of NIMH franchise, threw out all of that nonsense about the prophecy, and just made their own damn film about an unrelated mouse society in a valley being threatened by evil scientists and the leader of the scientists was the main character's brother (spoilers), this film would've been seen for what it is; a harmless mouse-filled romp meant for little kids. Oh it's not good, I'm not implying that. It's pretty mediocre by animation standards. It's just that the main thing that makes it bad it's a sequel to one of the best animated films ever made and it makes absolutely no sense as a sequel either.

But mostly I'm saying this because I wish this building was in a better movie.

Evil research facilities. My one weakness.
The first half of the film is largely forgettable. Thorn Valley and the forest are both alright, but not very spectacular. The money was completely thrown towards the second half of the film and its dark, gritty, futuristic science facility of mass evil. Even before we actually see the National Institute of Mental Health as a whole, you know that there's going to be something massive going down when you see the buildings surrounding this thing. I'm not sure why all of the tallest buildings in that city are clustered around NIMH like a giant animal cage and what kind of building permits you would need to pull that off, but you have to admit it's pretty badass-looking, especially when you get a bird's eye view of the place and see the sickly green glow of the research facility reflecting out of the pits of hell like the eye of a cosmic horror.

And, like all evil mad science labs, there are rooms that have twisted, horrible experiments happening within, like a room dedicated to taking NIMH's former employees and replacing their minds with that of a dog....

They totally should've made a film about the scientists who came to work one day and got their brains horrendously altered by a crazy lab mouse instead of, you know, focusing on Timmy.
...a room filled with the preserved corpses of worms for no other reason than to look creepy....

"I guess sticking mealworms in jars full of glowing green goo counts as research."
...and this...weird fish experiment that flashes during the villain song and seems to only exist to break my mind.

For science!
I realize this place isn't the most subtlest of research facilities (and fans of the original movie and the books hated what they did to NIMH and the fact that NIMH is basically now Evil McEvil Lab of Darkness and Depravity), but if you gotta go all-out, go all-out. And you gotta love the results.

Even if the place looks like it needs one hell of a janitor to get it back up to health regulations. Seriously, how could the scientists stand working in a place with such green lighting and such grime?

Arkham Asylum for mice.
Just, a movie with Eric Idle as an evil mouse doesn't need to be in the same film continuity as The Secret of NIMH.

2. Robots

Before anyone cries foul, this is the best cartoon on the list by far.

During the early 2000's, thanks to the success of Pixar, CGI basically took over the animation movie industry, leaving 2D animators to weep bitter tears of regret and slit their wrists, and movie after movie was released, coercing movie-goers to go see them just because they were CGI. This was one of those films. Created by Blue Sky Studios, Robots is one of the few films from that studio that isn't an Ice Age film. As you can guess from the title, it was about robots, and they had to fight the evil robots to save the robot city and all of the nice robots that lived within the city.

And, of course, it had an all-star cast, because in the early 2000's, you couldn't make a CGI film without having instantly recognizable celebrities doing the voice-acting.

Why this is considered a bad cartoon

Even though it got a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who remembers this movie nowadays. It's not Secret of NIMH 2 bad. It just doesn't do much to break free from the masses of other CGI films and, personally, a lot better films have come out since then. Plus you have to factor in that out of all of Blue Sky's films, this one probably made the least amount of money.

The Awesome Location
The robot city, helpfully named Robot City.

I wonder if there's a People City somewhere on Earth...
Okay, let's be honest with ourselves. The plot is forgettable. The character models are, while inventive at times, by and large mostly on the creepy scale of things. But this city? I have yet to see a futuristic robot city in a CGI movie that has topped this place yet and it makes me sad.

I think even this movie realizes that the viewers are more interested in the way this robot city works instead of the plight of the blue robot and the robot industry at stake, because there are entire scenes where the focus is taken away from the main characters and instead shows us this place's majesty. Hell, the trailer is basically "Look at this city. This city is awesome." and who can blame it?

Wait, does this movie actually have protagonists?
Words cannot describe how much I love this city. For all intents and purposes, this movie does use the city well and really fleshes this place out. It's just that we run into the problem that this city takes place in Robots, a movie that most people only remember because it has Robin Williams in it.

But the best part has to be the fact that this city is actually built in layers, and every layer of the city is special in its own way. There's a high end district (which, according to Wikipedia, is called "High End District") where the rich robots live and where the factory lies, a chop shop bottom district where robots go to die, and a middle district for kind of the poorer to middle class robots.

...and they had to go ruin it all by having a character called Aunt Fanny, aka "Butt and fart jokes, everybody! They're still funny, right?". Stay classy, Blue Sky Studios.

3. Dragon Flyz

If you're going "Huh?", I honestly don't blame you.

After the Earth is destroyed by a nuclear cataclysm, the last remnants of humanity are on a floating island city called Airlandus, where they befriend dragons and fight the hideous mutants on the surface in order to collect crystals that can keep Airlandus afloat while they search for habitable land on the surface.

Oh, and it was a cartoon meant to advertise the male version of sky dancers.

Oddly, the Sky Dancers managed to have more dignity.

Why this is considered a bad cartoon
Not so much "bad" as it is forgotten, painfully cheesy, and painfully 90's. It's a cartoon meant to sell toys to young boys and the writing is well-aware of that so it never tries to be anything better. Because of this, not many people remember this series and it's since sunk into obscurity.

The Awesome Location

Aw yeah.
This is a weird cartoon. It's probably the only time I've watched an animated show and thought that the visuals were not only better than the story, but way, way, WAY better than the story. Dragon Flyz is your average post-apocalyptic "group of teenaged superheroes with attitude have to protect their land from some evil jerk and his mutated army" with some air puns thrown in for good measure, and I guess it does its job well, but oh man, the backgrounds. Look at these backgrounds. I like to call this cartoon "Eye Candy" instead of Dragon Flyz because the art direction is sheer win coated with a thin layer of awesome sauce.

I can be honest when I say that I've seen animated films that didn't look this good.
Hell, even the quick "blink and you'll miss it" part of the intro where it shows the ruins of old Earth are amazing to look at. If you can make the apocalypse look pretty, then obviously you have talent.

And then humanity was wiped out by a giant Windows Media Player effect.
Best part is, you have two different flavors to choose from. If you like clean, peaceful, air cities and state-of-the-art technology, Airlandus has plenty of that, from its golden buildings and its control towers, to its biospheres. Everything about this place screams "Good Guy Lair" and it certainly shows. I like to think that whenever a flying city appears in an RPG, they secretly ripped off of this show. It's that good.

It's probably not a good thing when I'm watching something and I'm thinking "Man, I wish these characters weren't around so I could stare at the backgrounds some more".
Or if you like distopian wastelands from a previously destroyed Earth, this cartoon has that too. Considering the nuclear fallout really warped the planet, Earth is now a strange mixture of alien plants and rivers of lava. The crowning jewel of this wretched hive that used to be a place we called home has to be the bad guy's lair, which makes him look way more badass than he really is. Trust me on this.

The villain to watch if Bowser from Super Mario Brothers is too subdued and sophisticated for your liking.
Best part? I took all of these screens from just the first episode. There's two whole seasons and twenty-six whole episodes of these beautiful, beautiful locations. Now, you might be wondering. If the backgrounds look this good, then surely this entire show is just as good right?

Well...no. The animation, while passable, is really stiff, the line delivery is atrocious most of the time, and the plots are pretty goofy. You're better off either watching this thing in mute because you will hate yourself after listening to some of this dialogue.

Plus there's freaking airquakes in this show. Airquakes. I hate it when good talent such as this has to be buried in the sands of time due to the sheer ineptitude of everything else in the show's production.

4. Felix the Cat: The Movie

Yeah, if you didn't expect this movie to appear on the list, then you haven't been reading this blog for very long. I've already gone through extensive lengths to talk about this film already, but let's just say that it earns its reputation for not making a lick of sense.

Might as well add a plot overview just for completion's sake. Felix the Cat gets sucked into another dimension and has to save a whiny princess from an evil space lizard's circus and then throw a book at some inept cyborg's robot in order to save the Kingdom of Oriana. The End.

Why this is considered a bad cartoon
Nostalgic Critic did a review on it, the movie performed horribly at the box office, the Felix the Cat franchise doesn't like to mention this film save for a historical footnote, and I myself did four separate blog posts on just how many things are wrong with this film.

Plus all you have to do to realize it was a bad movie is just look at the animation.

Yeah, this movie really isn't winning any favors with cartoon historians.

The Awesome Location

Progress City

No matter how terrible the animation of this cartoon can get, I can't bring myself to hate Progress City. Progress City is just way too awesome of a place. I'm still sticking with my opinion that if Progress City and the surrounding swampland was where they end up fighting The Duke of Zill, this movie would've been a lot more coherent. Considering the place is one of the better hellholes I've seen in a film, it just reads more like evil villain territory than the crystal-covered paradise that Oriana becomes.

I wanna see how the hideous mutants of The Land of Zill actually get into these buildings.
Really, this is truly one of the better hellholes I've seen in a cartoon. I mean, it contains both a really terrible swamp and a circus of all things. And the circus, despite having some of the worst animation in the entire movie, is really inventive. They probably focus too much time on it as opposed to the rest of the city, but I always assumed that, thanks to the Duke of Zill, Progress City's landmarks have all fallen to ruin save for the circus run by a creature that the Duke himself placed in that seat of power.

Anything else I say about this movie will be just me repeating myself though. Let's just say that, had this film had a budget, Progress City could've been something fantastic.

Honorable Mention

The Hair Forest

Pictured: Nightmares.
I've also already talked about the hair forest in massive detail already. I'm just mentioning it here because it's the closest that you get the feeling that the dimension of Oriana is a horrifying and a surreal place to live in. The beginning of the film, Felix warns that some of the creatures in Oriana are pretty strange. Can't get any stranger than a bunch of disembodied red heads with wings flying around, taking people's heads.

5. A Troll in Central Park

A troll voiced by Dom DeLuise ends up in Central Park. Whimsical, cute things happen.

And it became one of the lowest grossing films ever to be released by a major studio.

Why this is considered a bad cartoon
Ignoring the fact that it did terribly at the box office, talk to a Don Bluth fan. Any Don Bluth fan. It's widely regarded as the worst Don Bluth film ever, no one really has anything nice to say about this film. Plus, Nostalgic Critic review.  

The Awesome Location
The woefully underutilized troll world.

Their kingdom motto is "U mad, bro?".
Okay, a lot of things could've been done to save this film. Even I, someone who can't bring myself to hate this film, will admit that there are a ton of things wrong with it.

To me, what would've helped is if they fleshed out the world that the trolls live in and if they just plain showed more of what was going on here. What little glimpses you see in both the "Queen of Mean" song sequence and the opening make this place appear to be a great little hellhole that we never get to really see. The houses rise like cold spires out of a mire-filled wasteland covered in mist, mutated dogs run rampant in the streets, and within the first couple of minutes in the film, we get to see the main character narrowly get eaten by an alligator. I kind of wanted to see what other creatures lived here. Hell, why not just set the whole movie here and name it something else? I want to see a good troll movie, damnit. Is that so hard to ask?

I kind of wish we got to see more of the troll society as a whole too. Stanley, the main character, really hates living here, but we never get a good explanation why. I want to know why he's such a good troll compared to the rest of the trolls.

Oh, and look closely at the pillars of the Troll Queen's palace, especially since we see them after we hear a giant song where she tells us that she turns the people who stand in her way into stone.

Holy crap. They're made of the remains of trolls she turned into stone! That's so cool!

...why didn't they elaborate on that and instead focus on the singing troll and his weird talking flowers?

Ugh. This is so on the list because of how utterly frustrating it is to see this really cool place and then quickly go to singing flowers underneath Central Park. Goddamnit, Don Bluth. A movie about a troll that hates his own species and tries to lead a coup against its oppressive queen using the powers of nature verus the queen's ability to control rock and steel would've been an awesome film!

Honorable Mention
Central Park after the tornado hits.

One does not simply walk into Central Park.
A Troll in Central Park is many things for most of the movie. Cutesy, filled with too many annoying scenes, bland. But then the third act happens and all of that changes. Apparently all it takes is a magic tornado to turn Central Park into a twisted, abandoned wasteland filled with threatening plantlife. It makes absolutely no sense that the very landscape is shaped by this strange tornado that the entire city doesn't really care about, but since this is a list devoted entirely to eye candy in bad films, I'm allowing this.

Finally, an accurate depiction of Central Park in a movie.
Considering most of the film is about Stanley showing the audience how awesome plants are, it's kind of cool to see that turned on its head for the opening climax and having the kids be surrounded in trees that look downright menacing, a completely different tone from the bright and colorful adventures that were taking place underneath a Central Park bridge for most of this time.

...wait. Bridge. Troll. I've been watching this movie for most of my life and I just now got the connection.

You know, I totally would watch a movie that was about this kid and his younger sister stranded
in this horrifying wasteland and they had to find their way home.
And Central Park even has a medieval castle for the climax to take place in. How useful.

Really, it's kind of sad how all of these screens I've posted for A Troll in Central Park set a completely different tone from the actual movie. Trust me, it's a lot more cutesy than this. There's just certain pockets of badassery trapped within the cheerful whimsy.

Although if the marketing used more clips from these scenes, it probably would've made a lot more money.
Does this excuse the many flaws in the writing? Of course not. But underneath its candy coating, A Troll in Central Park is still a Don Bluth film, and if Don Bluth has one talent, it's knowing how to create really dark things in animated films.

Just dude. Troll world. Why isn't there a full movie on that?


And that was my list. Remember, even the worst of the worst films tend to have something redeemable about them, even if it's something as lowly as "hey, that one place they were at looked really cool".

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to hide in a bomb shelter now because I said something nice about Secret of NIMH 2 on the Internet.